[Ndca-l] Student Abuse in Debate

Timothy Mahoney pacedebate
Mon Feb 24 11:29:34 EST 2014

The NDCA National Championships ombudsman will be Glenda Ferguson. I
appointed her a few days ago.


Tim Mahoney
Director, 2014 NDCA National Championships policy division

On Mon, Feb 24, 2014 at 10:24 AM, Jim Menick <jim.menick at gmail.com> wrote:

> (I'm cross-posting this to coachean.blogspot.com and referencing it on
> the NDCA Facebook page. This is my own material, and does not represent the
> opinion of anyone but me.)
> My evaluation of conflict and strikes practices has led me to a problem
> that is real, and that we are not handling well. Every high school debate
> tournament is by definition an academic event conducted for the educational
> benefit of secondary school students. Tournaments comprise hordes of
> adolescent high school students, dozens of judges--many of them
> independent--not much older than high school students, assorted parents and
> chaperones who are not a part of the community on a regular basis, and a
> handful of adults acting either as coaches or tournament staff. For the
> most part, this group works together well, but there are exceptions, and
> some of these are unacceptable.
> From my private discussions, and my own observations (these texts are
> edited by me):
> *A judge used curse words on a ballot to one of our second-year debaters
> this year, ballots which were publicly scanned. This judge publicly bashed
> my student at the tournament where she wrote this hideous ballot. The head
> coach of this judge's program never followed up on my request for an
> apology from the judge to the student and that judge has never apologized,
> despite direct contact from me. This was beyond "alleged" behavior and was
> more than just "nasty" but outright unprofessional and publicly humiliating
> to a student... *
> *A judge directed inappropriate sexual remarks to not one, but two, of my
> freshman female novice teams. I reported him to the coach who brought him
> and was assured he would never be hired again, but he has been, both by
> that coach and a number of others. Honestly, no students, or at least no
> female students, should be judged by this person...*
> *[Minority students] **are being told, by judges, racism has no impact,
> racism doesn't matter, slavery was bad, but worth it. I'm tired of having
> my students racially assaulted. I don't want people around my students who
> helped create this hostile atmosphere. My students have just as much right
> to play as anyone else...*
> These are egregious examples of behaviors to which our adolescent students
> should not be exposed at a debate tournament. Add to this issues such as:
> judges who are apparently stoned on drugs, judges who pay no attention to a
> round whatsoever, judges who demand that students partake of actions in
> rounds that are not debate-related (e.g.,  extra points for juggling or
> telling jokes), judges who fall asleep, etc.
> *If there are people who are so unacceptable that they need to be struck
> for cause or conflicted from whole schools because we think they are bad
> for children, shouldn't we really be doing more than making sure they don't
> judge our own kids? Is talking to the person who brought them really
> enough? Perhaps we should be doing more than conflicting or striking them.
> If a judge is not fit to be around anyone's students, that person be
> excluded from judging anyone, at least once the judge has been spoken to
> and told what the community expects of its judges, and then given a chance
> to be different and better. Judges sometimes need to be educated to be good
> educators, but if that fails, judges need to find a different source of
> weekend job income.*
> When issues arise, as often as not they are brought to the tab room. But
> tab's job is tabbing the tournament, not solving problems unrelated to
> setting up the events correctly, and we often can't give those problems a
> fair shake because our attention is elsewhere. Besides, we're not really in
> charge of the tournament, we're staff with a specific, limited
> responsibility. When there are questions of ethical violations, we turn to
> the tournament directors. It's their show. But often they are students
> themselves, at least at many college events, or tied up solving the myriad
> issues that arise during a tournament, like locked rooms and lost
> concessions and the like.
> Let me go further. Many of the problems we're ascribing to the judge pool,
> many of whom are immature college students with no particular affiliation,
> are also problems that apply to the rest of the debate community. My own
> personal experience has mostly but not exclusively been with inappropriate
> behavior bordering on assault of high school girls by high school boys, not
> judges, immediately before and after rounds.
> One big problem with handling any of this is the nature of the evidence at
> hand. One must be careful about making serious accusations about anyone,
> and we are not really equipped to handle any of this at debate tournaments.
> We're all busy doing something else. But, if situations are as serious as
> they appear to be, we can't just ignore them. If we, the people who are
> running tournaments, don't do something about these problems, we are
> shirking our responsibility to the students in our care.
> A year or two ago, on my The View from Tab podcast, we were discussing
> some similar issues, and agreed that one way to begin to handle them was to
> appoint an ombudsman at every tournament, a trusted, neutral individual (or
> two) who would be the person students, coaches, judges or anyone with an
> issue not debate-related but personal/physical could go to get a hearing
> and, if necessary, help. This did not assume that the ombudsman could solve
> every problem, but the problems could be evaluated. Let's say that a judge
> makes inappropriate sexual overtures in a round. If the accusation is
> brought to the ombudsman, that person will interview the judge and the
> students who were in the room. Perhaps the judge simply needs a little
> education; this will do the job. It will also put the judge on alert not to
> do this again, that there are repercussions. I have no idea how we
> officially handle the problem of that judge showing up again next week
> somewhere else and doing the same thing again, but judges do tend to show
> up again and again as do schools and coaches, at all the same tournaments,
> and we'd probably have the same little pool of ombudsmen. I doubt if it
> would take long to spot and handle repeat offenders with serious issues.
> I'm not saying that an ombudsman system is perfect, but I guarantee that
> having no system is intolerable. Child abuse, be it racial, sexual,
> bullying or any other variety, can't be something we don't care about.
> So, I say that we simply insist that every invitational has an ombudsman
> or two for handling non-debate issues. That we make it very public who
> those people are, and very private when they are handling any issues. That
> we publish in our invitations who the ombudsmen will be, and how to reach
> them. That we empower the ombudsmen to go to coaches and tell them never to
> hire this person again, and that we listen and do it.
> The alternative to this, or some other solution (I doubt if this solution
> is the only one possible, and it certainly may not be the best, but it is a
> start), is the continuation of abuses that we are supposed to be
> preventing. Let's start with the first tournament of the 2014-15 season,
> and go from there. If you're attending a tournament and there is no
> ombudsman publicized, demand of the TD that this is unacceptable. If you're
> running a tournament, find people you know are trusted by the community as
> a whole. They can still judge lightly or run a table or whatever at the
> tournament, but I wouldn't put them in tab, and I wouldn't just say that
> tab or the TD will also act as ombudsman, because running a tournament is
> already too much to do over the weekend, much less adding this to the mix.
> If we don't do this, or something, we only have ourselves to blame for the
> results.
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